KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Valley Authority announced Thursday a new financial initiative to help local electric companies so they can continue serving customers amid COVID-19 disruptions.

Leaders of Knoxville-based TVA said they will make up to $1 billion in total credit support available to the firms.

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“The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the communities we serve is unprecedented and creates a degree of economic uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead,” said TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash in a news conference. “We recognize that we have a responsibility to leverage TVA’s resources and expertise to provide local power companies the stability and flexibility to address unique challenges by their customers."

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TVA said help for each company would be addressed individually.

A portion of any local power company's monthly TVA wholesale power payment would be deferred for a period of time during the ongoing COVID-19 response. An appropriate repayment plan will be put in place.

The initiative helps power firms be flexible when it comes to halting electric service connections and so they can respond quickly to their customers' immediate needs.

“The strength of public power is a passionate commitment to serve people over balance sheets,” said Lyash. “This is perhaps more critical today than it has ever been.”

TVA has 154 "power partners" among seven states. Its energy goes to some 10 million people.

Besides generating electrical power to customers in southern states and promoting economic development in the region, TVA provides flood control, navigation and land management for the Tennessee River system.